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Enchanted Arms
Reviewed by J.V. Carone, © 2006

Format: Game
By:   Ubisoft
Genre:   Anime RPG
Review Date:   October 19, 2006
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

Most big stories go for a flashy ending and some quick action descending towards the credits. Luke blows up the Death Star and gets a medal, R2 spins around, we all laugh. Indiana Jones doesn't look into the Lost Ark and goes for a drink with Marion, the ark gets locked away in a warehouse, we all smile knowingly and go "heh."

In Enchanted Arms, you defeat an artificial tool built to make men like God, go home, and hold your best friend down for a big, sloppy, public gay kiss that causes women and children all around you to flinch and look away in shock. Roll credits.

Enchanted Arms is a hilariously Japanese RPG exclusive to the X-Box 360, produced primarily so that Microsoft could say to the far eastern market, "Hey, we totally tried to appeal to you this time."

Indeed, the 360's colossal failure overseas can be attributed to Microsoft's longstanding corporate policy of focusing on the Australian, European and North American markets -- or as others may put it, "marketing to regions where people spend money instead of freaking out over whether a second elevator in their office building is causing too much global warming."

But with this game Microsoft throws that policy out the door and welcomes our squid- and shark fin-devouring neighbors from the Pacific to the XBox's super fun time happy panda number one gamer table. More Japanese RPGs are on their way to the console, including two developed by a former mastermind behind SquareEnix's Final Fantasy series, so we can all look forward to more of the same thing we've been playing since 1997 in the near future. Only with no jagged PS2 polygons for us to cut ourselves on mid-game.

Enchanted Arm

See, everything about the story line of Enchanted Arms is about as formulaic as it could possibly be, just like every other Japanese RPG ever made. You start off playing as Atsuma, the game's protagonist, who is a university student in Yokohama, a city with the correct ratio of consonants to vowels for it to be assumed to be a real Japanese city. Atsuma, like every other RPG protagonist, is your standard dull-witted youth who mostly has conversations with people about his enchanted right arm and its ultimate destiny.

Enchanted right arm.

Get it?

The game thrusts you into a boss battle without giving you so much as a clue as to how to actually play, so if this is your first Japanese RPG, you're going to be really confused for about 45 seconds while you get used to the overly simplistic and boring combat controls. It's turn-based, and really reminded me of that holographic chess game from Star Wars that Chewie played with R2D2. (For younger readers who lack the attention span to sit through A New Hope, it reminded me of Pokémon.) After you get through this sequence, you are then given the option to go through a basic and useless yet lengthy combat tutorial.

Everything in the game, from elevators and ladders to doors and mine carts, is activated by walking up to it and pushing "A." However, every party member you drag along with you feels the need to inform of you of this fact as you near a new interactive object. Then they chastise you for being too dumb to know it already. It isn't so much that its inconvenient, as much as it really hurt my feelings with all the name-calling.

Blah Blah Blah Ancient Evil

Finally you enter the game story, where you meet your first companions, Toya and Makoto. (Hilariously enough, the American voice actors for Toya and Atsuma pronounce Makoto's name completely differently. You say "Muh-kah-to," I say "Muh-ko-to.") The story is about the re-emergence of artificial intelligence military industrial complex blah blah blah ancient evil whatever genocide, but as you can tell in my lack of interest, it's really secondary to some really great character development between Atsuma, his buddies and three other party members who join up around the ten- and twenty-hour marks.

The story itself is just an excuse to give these characters motivation to kill quasi-sentient toys that have been out of commision for literally a millenium. One character's father dies, another character's greed leads to betrayal, another ally's resolve to fight is tested by the boundaries of, sigh, love. Of course, once these problems are resolved, the characters take it upon themselves to vent their life stories to you. Some players may appreciate that. Others will be breaking the skip-dialogue button on their controllers.

Everyone buzzes about Toya's great destiny and how dreamy he is. But the real g gem of the trio is Makoto, a flamboyantly gay transvestite college-student mix of Nathan Lane and David Bowie. He wears makeup, he is more androgynous than the aliens Wilford Brimley likes to swim with, he makes special "love lunches" for a boy he has a crush on, he lisps, he' s a strict adherant of the Ganguro lifestyle. He's not just gay. He's Japanese gay. He is so annoying and bitchy that it's both intentionally and unintentionally hilarious. It gets to a point where you actually hope that with every lengthy conversation Makoto is going to say something stereotypical and hilarious. This is what Jar Jar Binks could and should have been.

Forty Hours

Thanks mainly to a plethora of dialogue, the game's developers clocked the average play time at about 40 hours from start to finish. I took an extra 20 hours because I fell asleep playing the game at four in the morning and didn't wake up until the weekend was almost over.

But there actually is a lot to do in between cutscenes that legitimately expands the game's playing time, such as a simplistic casino with slot machines, an arena mode, a roulette wheel, and for older gamers, bingo.

Towards the end of the game, you're also given an option to tackle a series of high-level dungeons where the boss fight is with a giant Zord from Power Rangers who wears a loincloth. This can literally can add ten hours to the game, but it's completely optional and easy to skip.

In addition to being impressively lengthy, there's a ho-hum online mode where you can battle other Pokém — er, "golem" trainers using characters you've synthesized from the game. Synthe, synthe, synthesize them all, synthesize them all, Enchanted Arms! Ahem. It could get old for players who are less enthusiastic about the game than simply leveling up elite, undefeatable characters. But if you're looking for a decent voice chat room with just a hint of chess-like strategy and violence without all the jiggling of Dead or Alive 4, or if you're just a flaming Magic: The Gathering geek, this may be the online game for you, my friend.

Next Gen?

But what really nags me about Enchanted Arms is the environment. In some places the graphics barely qualify as next-generation. Sure, it looks better than anything the original XBox could produce, but having played through Jade Empire until I was mysteriously fluent in Mandarin and found myself subconciously ordering copies of Mao's Little Red Book off eBay, I'd say it's just barely so.

The character models are all well detailed and have surprisingly realistic fabric motion physics. Even Atsuma's cliche spikey hair moved realistically, assuming it can be achieved in real life by anyone who is not in an emo band or has a soul. A few of the cities and boss coliseums shine, and the cutscenes are nothing short of beautifully rendered.

But the environments in places are nothing short of ugly, with filtered layers just applied to many textures with a paint-bucket tool. This becomes especially blatant when you finally gain the ability to turn random encounters off, about ten hours before the end of the game. Until then you can't take three steps without hitting one, but if you don't, you have nothing better to do while jogging across the map than to notice how fugly and poorly-done many of the wilderness environments are.

Still, Enchanted Arms is a great first Japanese RPG for the XBox 360. While it suffers in the plot and graphics department, it more than makes up for them with diverse play mechanics, decent character development, and an extremely absorbing game length. Add satisfactory online play and we have a pretty decent $60 investment. It might be worth your money for the awkward gay subtext alone.

J.V. Carone is looking for a serious voice chat room. Desperately.

 
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